VALDOSTA -- It's a time of change at Valwood School.
It's finishing its last months on the Gornto Road campus, preparing to relocate to a new campus under construction on Old Highway 41 between Valdosta and Hahira.
The Valiants and Lady Valiants will have new homes, separate facilities for football, baseball, softball, basketball, tennis, track and soccer. And the school will have a familiar face to supervise the move and administer a growing athletic program.
Headmaster Scott Wilson announced this week that athletic director Brett Martin will no longer coach the football team so he may take an increased administrative role for the athletic department. Mike Patrick, a veteran of the South Georgia private school scene, will coach football this fall. Martin will continue to coach the baseball team.
"The management of our athletic program has become a bigger and bigger job," said Wilson. "Last December we took a tour of several schools larger than Valwood, schools that share our academic philosophy ... and do a great job athletically."
They found a need for a strong athletic director who had few if any coaching duties.
"Brett's plate will be overflowing as Valwood grows and moves forward," Wilson said.
"Our desire is to take the athletic program another step up, and that's going to take a lot of management," said Martin. "I was doing too much to do anything well."
"My best way to help the program is to step aside from football and take full charge of my duties as athletic director."
In the past few years, the participation in Valwood's athletic programs (junior high and high school) has tripled. According to a report prepared for Valwood's board, the number of teams have increased from 16 to 25, with the number of participants going from 109 to 348 (students who play two sports were counted twice, etc.). And Valwood plans to add boys' soccer this fall.
Add to the program's growth the school's move. It must be off the Gornto Road property by the end of June and ready for the start of the school year in late August -- earlier for the start of fall sports practice. There are questions about where the student-athletes will train and practice after July 1.
"Moving a program from one campus to another is a monumental task. We're working a mile a minute to get it done the right way," Wilson said.
"For a small school we have a massive amount of sports," said Martin. "Our new facilities are going to be a showplace and I think we're going to get more kids out there."
Admittedly, Martin's workload just may increase with Valwood's additional athletic facilities. All the more reason to give football to someone else.
"You need to have someone who is devoted to football and only football," Martin said. "Give it time to coach, to watch film and put in the massive amount of hours it takes. And I want to be a good husband and father, too. I think it was time to turn it over."
Martin came to Valwood as an assistant under Joe Wilson, then took over the program in 1995. His 1999 team won a Class A state title, and the 1998 the made it to the semifinals.
Once the school decided to make the change with Martin, the next question was asked and answered.
At first "I didn't have the slightest clue who was going to step in (as football coach)," Wilson said. "But Mike's earned the opportunity here. He's done a tremendous job."
"He's dedicated, loyal to the school and the program," Martin added. "His work ethic is unparalleled."
Patrick began coaching private school football at Westbrook School in 1991. He was the Cougars' head coach in 1993.
He had a two-year stint as an intern in the Atlanta Falcons' scouting department, and later returned to Westbrook where he coached a state championship baseball team (1999). He's been at Valwood the last two years, coaching everything from football and baseball to softball and basketball.
He will continue to coach varsity girls' basketball.
"I enjoy coaching, and enjoy the kids at Valwood," Patrick said. "I'll be fair with the bo
ys at all times, but I'll expect some hard work.
"I was brought up to believe football is a contact sport. We'll be as physical as we can be. The bottom line in football is blocking and tackling."
Patrick will run Valwood's spring football practice in May.
The good news for Patrick and the Valiants? They'll make the Class AA playoffs this fall -- all 16 Class AA teams qualify for state. The road to state may be tougher.
"Brookwood and Tiftarea are dropping down from AAA," Patrick said. "There's two-time defending champion Westwood and Terrell is always physical. Piedmont won its region last year. I'm excited about the challenge."
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